Developing Effective Cross-Platform Metrics
As we approach the end of our second decade of the Internet, digital media has come of age and is being both embraced by consumers and integrated into their cross-platform content experiences. By way of example, throughout the just-completed NFL season, legions of avid fans sat down with friends and family to watch the games on TV, smart phones in hand so they could furiously check the progress of their fantasy teams, look up stats and out-of-town scores, talk trash on Twitter and/or update their Facebook statuses to reflect their changing moods each time someone scored. Yet as much as we're starting to get our "360" experiences right for the consumer, to be completely candid, as an industry we are missing the mark on effectively measuring cross-platform audiences.
The consensus opinion is that online audience measurement is deficient and not ready for cross-platform currency alignment. When assessing the effectiveness of a cross-platform campaign, the fact is that digital measurement is not even close to becoming "The Most Accountable Medium." The good news, however, is that with the undeniable adoption of digital and a shift in spending, we now have a number of forward-thinking, cross-ecosystem (i.e., publishers, agencies and vendors) thought leaders applying their gray matter to the task at hand.
So what will it take to get there?
First and foremost, essential to online measurement is the need for more transparency and accountability. These are attributes long held by our broadcast media elders. Since the 1960s, when the government created the Media Rating Council (MRC), standards have existed to which Nielsen (TV), Arbitron (radio) and other forms of currency have had to be accountable. In fact, straying from this path might very well lead to hearings on Capitol Hill.
While the online audience measurement counterparts have been in audit, they have not crossed the finish line. Luckily, publishers have taken the lead on this path.
At my company we recently concluded our seventh audit. While we'd like to say we did this for noble reasons, our audit was driven by the challenges in measuring the Spanish-language marketplace. That is, the benefits of the audit, in our opinion, outweighed the cost.
For those under audit, we left "the wild, wild west" in our rearview mirror; no serving of ads to spiders; no refreshing to inflate impression counts; and no part of a practice that has been our industry's "dirty little secret": serving ad impressions globally, when U.S. marketers clearly wanted otherwise.
Advertisers are now asking that we focus on brand integrity. They want to make sure we're not only targeting within the U.S., but have confidence we're hitting specific DMAs; to ensure their ads are separated from competitive ads as well as away from objectionable material (the latter being more of a long tail problem); and the list goes on. Suffice it to say, a new breed of verification service is evolving that is just now following the publisher lead of going under MRC audit. We welcome them to the table.
If the recent Online Publishers Association (OPA) and the upcoming Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Annual Summits are any indication, digital data is moving front and center. Just as IP-Enrichment companies (e.g. Quova) infer geo-location by IP, there is another breed of Digital Data company (behavioral targeting, DSPs, etc.) that must follow suit.
Another example of cross-ecosystem collaboration is found at the Council for Research Excellence. They've just recently published an RFP to study common and best practices of publisher data collection and maintenance activities. By identifying common data sources, we can then study what data sources to put under the scope of audit while identifying best practices to protect consumer privacy.
Without hesitation, this has been a healthy, collaborative effort. From the first IAB Ad Operations Agency Day hosted at Google-plex with colleagues from the AAAAs, MediaVest, Group M, Digitas and OMD (to name a few), we've learned how to work together. But our work is cut out for us and we still have "miles to go before we sleep."